DAYTON — Better Business Bureau serving Dayton and the Miami Valley warns people to be wary of mailings about tax-free life insurance for Ohio residents. The offer is not all it’s cracked up to be.
These colorful mailings bear the headline “2018 Benefit Information For Ohio Citizens Only.” They claim you may qualify for a state-regulated program to pay for your final expenses. The life insurance benefits will allegedly pay for 100 percent of all funeral expenses up to $35,000 and the payment is tax-free for Ohio residents.
The mailing claims all you have to do to learn more is return a postage paid card within five days to Direct Processing Center in Boise, ID. On the card, recipients are asked to provide their name, spouse’s name, ages and phone number.
Upon receiving a copy of the solicitation, BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley began an investigation. The company, Direct Processing Center, that sent the postcards to local residents has an F rating with BBB Northwest + Pacific in Idaho.
BBB rates companies from A+ to an F, similar to the education system. The company also does business as Need-a-Lead, Need A Lead and Senior Supplemental Referral Service. One factor affecting the company’s rating is its failure to respond to three complaints filed against the business.
In addition, BBB Northwest + Pacific contacted the company regarding its direct mail campaigns on Jan. 25, 2018. Specifically, BBB did not find the direct mail pieces were transparent regarding the fact the information provided by the consumer would be sold to third parties.
According to the Code of Advertising, advertisers bear primary responsibility for truthful and non-deceptive advertising. Misrepresentation may result not only from direct statements but by omitting or obscuring relevant facts. The company responded to BBB stating it did not want to modify its advertising. Its representative alleged the direct mail pieces are in compliance with the applicable state and federal regulations.
However, on Aug. 28, 2017, the company and the state of Iowa, through its Attorney General, entered into an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance. This agreement settles a dispute over whether mailings to Iowans were misleading, in violation of Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act.
The Iowa Consumer Protection Division opened a case after an investigator received a mailing at his home. The division investigated and determined the company produced the mailings to generate sales leads and sent them to 26,000 Iowans in late 2016.
The company forwarded consumer responses to insurance agents who followed up with sales pitches for funeral insurance. The “Benefit Information” mailing, marked “time sensitive” and titled “Government Benefit Supplement Policy,” claimed to announce a “Senior Final Expense Program to help pay what Social Security does not” for funeral expenses. The mailing sought the recipient’s phone number and age, and spouse’s age, “to see if you qualify” for the “free service.”
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said, “We allege the mailing deceptively appears to be an official contact from a governmental agency with its references to ‘time sensitive’ and ‘benefits.’ Small print discloses a lack of government affiliation, but that’s not good enough. Consumers have a right to know who’s contacting them and why, and lead generation attempts that obscure that information are unacceptable.”
The agreement prevents the company from sending Iowans mailings that:
• Give the impression they come from a government agency
• Create a false sense of urgency
• Make misleading references to “free services”
• Obscure the true purpose behind the mailing and the request for personal information
In addition, the agreement required the company to pay $1,500 to support future consumer fraud enforcement efforts.
In addition, BBB serving Dayton and Miami Valley learned BBB St. Louis warned its residents in 2016 about a similar mailing, which was being sent on behalf of Georgia-based Direct Data Services.
A different company than the one on the mailing locally received, but the wording was nearly identical. The BBB discovered the company intended to use the questionnaires in the mailings to collect personal information from consumers and sell that information to licensed Missouri sales agents.
The agents would call the consumers who completed the cards and set appointments to discuss the policies. BBB St. Louis found Missouri law says, “The name of the insurer shall be clearly identified in each advertisement.” And, BBB was concerned that the mailers may be an attempt to bypass state and federal no-call lists by getting consumers to request insurance information.
BBB offers advice regarding these types of solicitations:
• Be wary of any mailer offering free publications, information or gifts. These often are inducements to get you to provide personal contact information.
• Never give out personal information unless you know who is asking for it and why.
• Keep in mind you are giving telemarketers permission to contact you if you respond to these types of mailings.
John North, president and CEO of BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley, says, “These mailings take advantage of consumers because they are not transparent and are misleading. It’s important to do your homework and research unsolicited offers before paying any money or providing personal information. BBB is happy to help. You can check out companies online at bbb.org or by phone at (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301.”
The writer is the president and CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Dayton and Miami Valley.